Tips for Booking a Whitewater Rafting Adventure Through the Grand Canyon

Take a Rip-Roaring Ride Through One of the World’s Natural Wonders

During ancient times, pretty much everyone agreed about what constituted the various wonders of the world. No one argued over the inclusion of the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Today, though, there’s less agreement when it comes to the wonders of the natural world. Fewer people recognize sights such as Ha Long Bay or Parícutin. But there’s one location that everyone recognizes: the Grand Canyon.

Measuring a mile deep and splaying over 277 miles, the river-carved Grand Canyon truly steals your breath when you see it — and one of the most popular ways to experience it is on a rubberized raft as it slides down the Colorado River.

Indeed, it’s a quintessentially American experience. Historians believe that indigenous peoples cruised down the waterway in dug-out canoes, and tourists have braved its waters since the 1950s. Anyone who enjoys the rush of cold water, the thrilling scenery of the American Southwest, and a healthy jolt of adrenaline should read on to learn more about some of the best whitewater rafting trips down the Grand Canyon.

Half- or Full-Day Trips

While rafting through the Grand Canyon sounds fun, some people balk once they learn how long it can take to indulge in the full experience. And “indulge” is the ideal word, because even a briskly paced float through the upper and lower sections of the Canyon takes a full 10 days at a minimum, time that few working adults or school-aged families can spare. Fortunately, savvy outfitters have come up with ways to provide travelers with a Grand Canyon float on a shorter schedule.

Tour companies offer a pair of half- or full-day rafting trips starting either above or below the Canyon proper. Easy rides typically begin at Glen Canyon Dam, a placid stretch that marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon, while tours with actual whitewater take place farther south on Hualapai Tribal Lands. Passengers on the former start their journeys at Page, AZ, and those interested in the latter begin in Peach Tree, AZ.

Numerous operators can take you on single-day rafting trips, and those jaunts come with a variety of options, including helicopter tours, an amazing viewing platform known as the Skywalk, and company-provided transportation.

Outfits, some of which are promoted by the state of Arizona, include Hualapai River Runners ($470 to $1,786 per person), Angel’s Gate Tours ($259 to $749 per person), Rivers & Oceans ($489 per person), and  ($93.42 to $120.89 per person). For a totally different experience, try kayaking for a half-day in Antelope Canyon with Lake Powell Adventure ($95 per person).

Two-Day to One-Week Trips

Once you decide to dedicate a little more time to a Grand Canyon rafting trip, your options open up. Even a 48- to 72-hour jaunt provides you with a surprisingly diverse array of experiences. Depart from Las Vegas and sleep under the stars before embarking on a lower Canyon (i.e., southwestern) float trip that takes you through moderately fast-flowing rapids with Grand Canyon Tour Company ($1,385 to $2,502 per person).

Enjoy a horseback tour at a dude ranch and 90 miles of motorized raft travel with Arizona River Runners ($1,425 per person). Stretch your legs with optional hiking after watching blue herons splash in the water near your raft and big-horn sheep tiptoe across rocky cliffs with Western River Expeditions ($1,470 per person).

But as the length of a trip increases, sometimes outdoor activities become mandatory. Over the space of five days, crash through a range of rapids from intense to placid on an upper Canyon (i.e., northeastern) tour with motor-, oar- or paddle-powered vessels and round things off with a 10-mile hike (Grand Canyon Tour Company, $1,195 to $1,905 per person).

Multiple outfits offer 88-mile floats from Lee’s Ferry down to the South Rim, including Arizona River Runners ($1,530 per person), Holiday River Expeditions ($1,885 to $2,480 per person) and Outdoors Unlimited ($2,000 to $2,340 per person).

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Week-Long and Longer Trips

Of course, throwing your schedule to the wind, stuffing your rucksack to the brim, and slathering on a tube or two of sunscreen in preparation for a week or longer rafting trip really is the best way to experience the Grand Canyon via boat. Wilderness River Adventures offers a lower Canyon experience ($3,705 per person) that will take you nearly nine days and a 14-day trip that spans the whole gorge.

Canyoneers similarly splits its full-Canyon rafting runs into two groups. A trip on a motorized pontoon boat ($2,778 per person) takes in all of the rapids at a fast clip of seven days. A slower jaunt on a restored 1947 cataract boat powered by oars, currents and the sweat of your brow ($3,995 per person) takes two weeks and includes hikes along the Canyon and informational lectures.

Those wanting a slightly shorter expedition can sign up for the 12-day Tour West option ($4,150 per person). Meanwhile, Outdoors Unlimited provides 15-day floats ($4,860 per person) during specific times of the year. Designed for a more leisurely pace, these trips also set out earlier in the year in order to capture more seasonal temperatures.

What to Know Before You Go

If any of the above trips tickled your fancy, there are a few things you should know before you book. Because rafting the Grand Canyon has become incredibly popular, the National Park Service has limited trips through the gorge’s most popular parts to one trip per person per year.

Official tour companies recognized by the NPS (which is pretty much all of the ones who take you through the Canyon proper) will not book you if you’ve been through these sections in the past 12 months.

Additionally, outfitters don’t run year-round. Trips typically take place from April 1 through the middle of September or end of October depending on the type of boat you’re taking.

Also, make sure you’re in decently good shape before you begin your trip. Pretty much every Grand Canyon whitewater float is strenuous and (as we’ve mentioned before) many require hiking. However, a little sweat and strain is more than worth it to enjoy one of the world’s natural wonders.

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